Mind and Body/Opinion

The healing power of sausage and meatballs

A recipe for political healing in a time of pandemic can be found in the traditions of an Italian family’s Sunday meal together

Image courtesy of Gov. Andrew Cuomo's Twitter feed

Gov. Andrew Cuomo, employing a similar strategy to President Franklin Delano Roosevelt's fireside chats, has used his daily briefings as an inclusive way to engage his audience as family.

By Mary Ann Sorrentino
Posted 4/6/20
When N.Y. Gov. Andrew Cuomo invoked, during a recent daily briefing, the memory of a Sunday meal with his family, he evoked for Mary Ann Sorrentino the importance of family ties as a form of political healing.
What is your favorite comfort food from family dinners of yore? How important is empathy and listening as a political force in a time of pandemic? Will Gov. Raimondo follow the lead of Gov. Cuomo and allow reporters to do live news conferences and ask follow-up questions? Will President Donald Trump ever be able to admit that he was wrong, that he has made mistakes? What new virtual family traditions will be developed in the wake of the pandemic?
Sometimes, families argue and disagree. As much as Gov. Cuomo’s performance in his daily briefings has garnered a devoted following, perhaps because of the sharp contrast to the arrogant posturing assumed by President Trump at his briefings, not everyone is a fan, including New York Times columnist Frank Bruni.
Instead, Bruni has been championing Gov. Gina Raimondo, writing ga-ga columns about her, promoting her as if he was her personal agent. The question to ask is: who keeps chirping in Bruni's ear? Is it Jon Duffy, the informal political advisor to Gov. Raimondo?
What made Bruni’s latest column so fascinating is that he played up a dispute between Cuomo and Raimondo, taking her side, over Raimondo's now abandoned effort to use the R.I. State Police to target and stop all cars with New York State license plates and collect information from the drivers.

PROVIDENCE – Along with millions of Americans and others who tune in from other areas of a planet on hold, I have found comfort in the televised briefings from New York’s Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who has now emerged as “America’s Governor.”

The Cuomo reassurances and calls for unity and discipline in the face of a terrifying pandemic ring especially true for Italian Americans such as myself, who – like members of any ethnic group – take particular pride when one of their own exhibits great leadership.

Having been an advocate and lobbyist for years, I am not politically naïve. My experience with men like Cuomo teaches me that their great public moments, though truly great, sometimes hide personal and political realities that, if publicly discussed, might soon take the blush off the rose of their national glory.

Great public leaders often lead imperfect personal lives. The challenges presented – by wars, economic depressions, public adulation, and sudden “acts of God” – have historically been met with dramatic public solutions by leaders whose private lives have known disarray.

History is replete with stories of public heroes who – when not speaking ex cathedra – fumble and sometimes fall as greed, lust, and/or endless ambition expose less-than-perfect lives.

Readers who think about that for a moment may find that they, too, revere some imperfect but amazing members of their own family circle, be that Irish, Jewish, WASP, Republican, Democrat, Black, Asian, Latino, whatever. Leaders are often just regular folks with more airtime.

A rudder in this dark moment
But Gov. Andrew Cuomo fills a need in today’s terrified America and has become the rudder Americans need in this dark moment.

His reverence for and imitation of the typical “Sunday dinner” his mother would prepare was an analogy the world could embrace. Whether listeners remembered the meatballs and sausage Cuomo rhapsodized over – or substituted their own recollections of corned beef and cabbage, lox and bagels, dim sum, grits, tacos, or roasted lamb, the image of a loving family gathered at the table brings universal comfort whenever such images are recalled.

My mother would leave her Sunday “gravy” slowly bubbling on a back burner of her new electric stove while we all went to the 11 o’clock Mass. When we returned about an hour later, she would boil the pasta, make the salad, slice the Italian bread, and call us to the table where my father would fill our plates.

This was a ritual not to be missed: even after my brother and I had grown and become mobile, there were no acceptable excuses for absence from the Sunday table; we wouldn’t have wanted to miss it, in any case.

Today, [on Sunday, March 29], Gov. Andrew Cuomo gave us, as he does every day at his briefings, a memory to hold onto as we navigate this pandemic, which was unimaginable just weeks ago.

He reminded us of days when we were loved and cared for and when we had faith in America and its leaders that everything would eventually be OK. He let us taste the hopefulness of youth and the spirit of an America that truly believed it could meet and beat any enemy.

A taste of family dinners
Mostly, he reminded us of what matters – today and every day – however frightening the day may look as we awaken from fitful nights facing a world in quarantine. He gave us a taste of the family dinners in our hearts and his, and what it feels like to bask in parental love and the reassurance of family unity.

Each of us will remember a particular table and the singular atmosphere our own family generated. But many of us will remain grateful to this man who understood that, this Sunday, at such an unthinkable moment, his sausage and meatball allegory was just what America, and the world, needed to keep going and to stay safe.

Long after we have removed our protective masks and thrown away our gloves to start moving freely again in a world safer, cleaner and healthier, we shall probably always remember this brief but heartwarming moment when a Sunday dinner memory helped to get us through an otherwise frightening time we shall prefer to forget when we can.

Mary Ann Sorrentino is a columnist who writes from Rhode Island and Florida, and, in summers, from Italy.

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